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Juan M. Gerardo is a Doctoral Candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His interest is working with pre-service mathematics teachers and supporting their efforts to teach for equity and social justice. You can follow him on twitter @mrg9605.




"Kinship - not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not ‘a man for others,’ he was one of them" (Boyle, 2010, p. 188).


GradHackers have discussed the value of self-care and the importance of a work-life balance. What other options are there in addition to sleep, exercise, and eating well? How else can we seek a healthy community? A feeling of kinship? In my prior blog entry I discussed the epiphany of hearing Spanish spoken by School of Education faculty. Moving from Southern California to the cornfields of Urbana-Champaign, I discovered kinship at a local Catholic parish. Perhaps places of worship can also be places of self-care, work-life balance, for finding kinship?


While living in Southern California prior to graduate school, I was a youth minister and confirmation catechist at Ascension Catholic Church. The youth were primarily first-generation Latinx. I enjoyed my experience working with a dedicated group of youth ministers and getting to know the families and youth of the parish. As a result of this experience, I thought that this might be something I could do in Urbana-Champaign as a way to seek “kinship” outside of the university setting.


Home Away from Home

I did some searches of Catholic parishes and one stood out:, St. Mary’s Catholic Parish. I had attended English mass Saturday evenings on a regular basis but it wasn’t until December 12th, several weeks later, that I attended mass in Spanish. Why December 12? This is the Día De la Virgen de Guadalupe or Day of the Mary of Guadalupe. The sights and sounds were familiar to me: mass in Spanish, the alabanzas or songs of worship, boys dressed as San Juan Diego (the indigenous male who was a witness to Mary’s apparition in Mexico City). That was just the beginning. The food after mass was amazing: champurrado (corn-based drink), posole (a stew), and tamales. Kinship through language, tradition, and food? I felt at home!


Ever since that fateful day, I volunteered during mass as a lector, usher, minister of eucharist, and even altar server. During the Spring semester, I started volunteering as a catechist and even coordinated a few Passion Plays for the parish youth to perform.


I got to know more parish members and was introduced to the local baker to get pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) and to other business owners such as mechanics and restaurant owners. As parishioners got to know me and realized that I was a mathematics teacher, I was often asked to tutor youth with their mathematics homework and I even worked with adults to help them prepare for the mathematics section the GED in Spanish. The personal highlights of my experience were being invited to someone’s home for some carne asada (grilled skirt steaks) and to Quinceañeras (coming of age celebration for Latinas on their 15th birthday). This familiarity did not happen overnight. It took about two years of volunteering at St. Mary’s and developing friendships for my first invitations. I could finally say that I had found my home away from home and in “kinship” with community members. Not that I “served” the “other” but I tried really hard to “be one with the other” as a member of St. Mary’s parish.


When not engrossed with reading, writing, and teaching as a graduate student, I made time to volunteer at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish and develop caring friendships. This addressed my self-care in regards to kinship and community. Perhaps I could suggest the following questions for you to ponder in the pursuit of kinship and community: Is there a community outside of the university that can provide a sense of kinship for you? Have you considered developing caring relationships with community-members to counter-balance the demands of graduate school? Are there particular skills / experiences that you can volunteer in the greater university town? It was a relief that on the weekend that I could step away from the academic grind and relax with other Spanish-speaking immigrants. Perhaps you too can find your home away from home.


Where have you found your sense of “kinship,” community, a home away from home?


[Image provided by Flickr user Jennifer and used under a Creative Commons license]